Snapshot for 24 January 2020

Snapshot for 24 January 2020

It’s the Chinese New Year celebrations this weekend, so let’s start in that part of the world.  Stats body OpenBook hosted its annual Reading X Conference in Beijing earlier this month, which looked at the future of the book industry. It had some good news for publishers: the Chinese market grew by 14.4% in value in 2019 over the previous year, coming in at 102.27 billion Yuan (around $14.9bn).

Unit figures were not included and some of this increase will have come from higher prices. Book sales through online channels showed a small increase and accounted for 24.9% of the market, according to OpenBook, while sales through physical bookstores fell by 4.2%.

The China Bookstore Conference was also held in Beijing this month, organised by Books and Periodicals Distribution Association of China, Bookdao New Publishing Institute and Time Publishing and Media. It looked at how to develop physical bookstores and acknowledge the contribution made by distinctive bookstores.

Xu Zhiming, an advisor for Bookdao New Publishing Institute said: “Traditional physical bookstores sold books for readers to improve themselves, but since online bookstores rob this function, physical bookstores can satisfy the need to study in other ways, like providing training courses, and a discussion space.”

He suggested that courses on wine-tasting or children’s crafts cannot be done online, but are better suited to bookshops. “Besides,” he added, “people have a need for social intercourse, and it can be combined with their need of learning in bookstores where they are able to study together.”

Still in the east, the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Education (MOE) in Taiwan jointly announced that Taiwan will become the first country in East Asia to adopt a Public Lending Right (PLR) program, under which writers will receive compensation for free public access to their books at two national libraries. The compensation is to be paid annually, starting in 2021, with 70% going to the author and 30% to the publisher, the MOE said.

In the trial stage, only books written by Taiwanese authors, published by registered entities in Taiwan, and assigned a valid International Standard Book Number will be eligible for PLR payments. Chinese translations of books by foreign authors and publishers will not be part of the program.

From the east to the north – the north of the UK that is. HarperCollins has now joined Hachette in announcing an editorial office in Manchester. Harper North will open “later this year”, forming, in the words of HarperCollins CEO Charlie Redmayne, a “natural extension to our operations in London, Glasgow, Honley [west Yorkshire, home to Collins Revision and Letts] and Dublin”. Can the other majors be far behind?

Lynda La Plante has been announced as ambassador for this year’s London Book & Screen Week organised by The London Book Fair, with fellow writers Joe Dunthorne and Lisa Owens also headlining. Among a mouth-watering list of events is an unusual on-stage interview with poet Scarlett Sabet at the Groucho Club. Asking the questions? None other than Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame.

The long goodbye for the former chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, Oren Teicher, continues. Buried in an interview in Shelf Awareness he raised an old book industry chestnut: printed prices on books. “What other business does that exist in?” he asked, pointing that other industries can pass on higher costs to the consumer by raising prices. “The book industry will have to take a closer look at the pricing model,” he concluded.

His successor is Alison Hill, the former president and CEO of Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, California. Interestingly, her background includes time at Waterstones in Boston – a period she remembers fondly – as well as some experience in publishing at Simon & Schuster. She told Publishers Weekly that booksellers are “in the business of community” and that they need to “reinforce that value and ensure we are meeting the community’s needs”. She also said: “I’m not sure that the typical Amazon customer is our customer.”

There was good news from indies in France whose sales increased by 7.1% in 2019, according to the Syndicat de la Librairie Francaise, the French Booksellers Association. This was achieved despite a difficult December because of disruption to shopping by the gilets jaunes protests. For German booksellers it was a more mixed picture. Though they finished the year up 0.5% in value, volumes sales declined by 0.4% according to trade organisation, the Borsenverein.

Meanwhile, back in the States, those crawdads certainly ended the year with something to sing about: Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdads Sing achieved the rare distinction of topping the charts for print, ebook and audio, not bad for an unknown debut author.

Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.

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